Without Losers

Competition or Cooperation? In our current cultural climate it can be very challenging to think about cooperation. If we do, it’s often in terms of teams in competition. We believe in team work but only when there is another team to beat. There is very little that we find entertaining that doesn’t involve someone coming out on top. The logic of competition has its dark side, though. If there is any truth to the idea that competition has given us major advances in technology, it has also created some serious problems.

Agree to Grieve: Sunday evening, there was a shooting in Gilroy. A map of where mass shootings have taken place is beginning to look frighteningly crowded. We are so used to them, we don’t even know how to respond. Or we know so well how to respond that we no longer feel the need to do anything. We know that some tremendous and terrifying chasm opens up each time. Evil shows its face and families are forced to grieve prematurely and forever.

Freedom or Control? When something as tragic as the Garlic Festival shooting occurs, you would think that it would create some sort of consensus. At least we can all agree that mass shootings are a terrible problem, right? The problem is: the split that already exists starts arguing two sides. Gun rights versus gun control. Even when something as crystal clear as a public tragedy occurs we can’t avoid bipartisan arguments.

Habitual Fans: I believe that this kind of change is much deeper than debate can touch. We have deeply rooted habits and patterns. Our reverence for competition keeps us from ever really working together. It’s as fundamental as what we pay attention to as an audience.

If Everyone Wins: There isn’t anything inherently wrong with liking a game where there are winners and losers. What’s wild, though, is how much that form of game predominates. It’s difficult to even imagine a game where everyone wins. I’m not talking about slightly altering the rules of one of our games so that there are 12th place trophies. That still keeps the same structure of logic, it just distributes and dilutes the wealth of winning. Imagine, however, if a group of people were given a set of tasks and the more they achieved the more they all would win. Instead of fighting to win and not be on the losing side, what if we worked collectively to win as much as we could together.

Organizinational Habits: This game does exist, but it’s not widely known or celebrated. The Teen Kitchen Project is one such game. The more work happens, the more everyone involved wins. Teens learn about cooking and people who need a hot meal get some delicious and healthful food. Teens get some experience and develop their culinary skills, people who need good food receive it.

Working Together: On Monday, I felt the effects of this version of winning when I went to photograph a visit at the Teen Kitchen Project’s Soquel kitchen. It was a normal day of production at the kitchen, the teens were attacking their tasks with order and a beautiful discipline. It takes so much more time to peel carrots and to prepare the ingredients for a quiche than it does to commit mass atrocity. This is what I find cool. Working together to win together.

Produce and Purpose: When our visitor arrived, we got to witness another layer of the vision. Bentley had been a cook in the military and he had received meals from the Teen Kitchen Project recently when he was battling cancer. The teens gathered around and he shared some of his experiences both as a chef and as client. Here we were looking at a man who had been nourished during some of his darkest hours by this very program. His eyes were shining like a stage actor’s in the spotlight of our attention, and he articulated himself expressively with his hands.

Feeding people is an ancient and honorable occupation and a program like the Teen Kitchen Project gets it right on so many levels. It’s an honor to be able to work with them.

Rogan Matters

5 things I took away from listening to Cornel West on the Joe Rogan podcast.

1. Cornel West is an unrivaled artist of the spoken word. His ability to flow with spontaneous prose is absolutely astounding. The wealth of thought that is the foundation of everything he says makes his speech nourishing like some kind of bread for the soul.

2. He made me miss my grandfather. We need to preserve our links to the past. Everyone is so caught up in social media, and I think that’s a good thing, but we need to make time to listen to our elders who have something to share with us. Listening to older people is absolutely a good idea.

3. Joe Rogan continues to evolve. He is a multidimensional thinker and his influence on bro culture should not be underestimated. Everyone can do better and following someone like Rogan who is constantly in pursuit of self improvement is just a good idea.

4. Culture continues to be more powerful of a force for good than politics or economics. We have to have some form of government, and we can’t survive without money. We need government for a lot of the basic things in life, and money is critical for living, but culture is what really inspires us to be great. West spoke about some of the great leaders of the civil rights movement and asked: “Do we remember who was the African American with the most money in 1965? No, but we remember Martin Luther King Jr. This kind of greatness is more important than any other form. Our real job is to speak from and to the hearts of other humans and work to inspire each other to be our best selves.

5. There is still hope for the human race. Things can seem dire, there’s plenty to worry about, but with enough courage we can face the challenges and persevere. When we work together, we grow to know each other better and our differences become strengths rather than threats.

What We Don’t Know

One of the realest truths that your parents every told you when you were a kid is that life is not fair. This is brutally obvious when you encounter a child like Joaquin, when you meet a mother like Sara Aluffi.

A friend contacted me through social media to make me aware of a charity event being organized as a benefit to fund the research to find a cure for Duchenne’s disease, a form of Muscular Dystrophy. I contacted the organizer and agreed to get some photos of the event. I have a busy schedule, so I didn’t have much time to research in advance of the event, but I figured I would show up get a couple dozen great photos for them and call it a day.

Another truth that many of us have experienced is that there is no love fiercer than a mother’s. What I discovered on Sunday is that there may be a stronger love; a community’s love for a family.

When I showed up to the parking area I started to see how big this event was going to be. Entire fields were full of cars with parking attendants directing traffic to the few remaining spots. A shuttle took us up to the house where the party took place. I was completely blown away by the turnout. Extra Large was playing, people were dancing, drinks were flowing and the mood was high. I started to photograph guests and everyone was happy to pose for the camera wanting to give anything and everything they could to the event. This was a community showing love to the fullest.

I saw so many great people as I walked around and it had the feel of a huge happy family reunion. Kids were running wild, getting their faces painted, playing on a bounce house, drinking lemonade and the adults were eating BBQ and enjoying a few cold ones in the shade. It was as good as parties get.

As I walked around I kept asking if anyone had seen Joaquin. I figured that the day might be a little overwhelming for him, so I didn’t want to force anything, but I wanted to get a photo of him for his mom. Everyone I asked said they hadn’t seen him. At one point during the day, I stopped and looked at an educational poster describing the disease. It is a genetic disorder that makes muscles break down over time and causes problems with the heart. Without a cure this leads children with this condition to rely upon a wheelchair by the time they are teenagers and most don’t survive their mid-20s.

As I read this poster, my heart sunk. I didn’t know Sara before this event, but I had seen glimpses of how much work it was and it made me tired just seeing her stories on Instagram. As I realized what was fueling her passion I froze in my tracks. Life is not fair. I looked around at the amazing smiling people and now I saw their hearts behind their happiness. These were families and anyone who has a child they love more than life itself understands in the core of their being what this means. Life is not fair.

I stayed till the end of the party getting as many good photos as I could and finally took the shuttle back down to the parking lot. I asked on the way down, one final time, if anyone had seen Joaquin.

“Yeah I saw him. He was playing up by the bounce house.”

I had to go back. I took the shuttle back up and re-entered the party looking for Joaquin. I asked a woman who was organizing some paperwork from the day.

“He’s right there!”

She turned around and there he was on the dance floor getting his groove on. I walked up to him and asked if he wanted a picture. Pizza on his face and shirt, a tired smile on his face, he stopped, looked at me and said “cheese!” I snapped a few frames and left him to return to his blissful dance. Right there, looking into that beautiful boy’s face I had an epiphany. The party was overwhelming to me. There were so many people and so much energy that it was exhausting, and here was this sweet five year old wearing a plastic firefighter’s hat two stepping to a reggae song.

Life is not fair, but it’s also a great mystery. There’s so much we don’t know about it. I’ll tell you this, though, when you have a child you love it connects you to the entire history of the human race and when you meet a boy like Joaquin it can inspire you to believe in angels. Life is not fair, but it’s beautiful, and what we don’t know may save us.

The Joy of Ribs

It’s not a difficult task to love food. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Humans are blessed with this amazing palette of flavors, colors and textures that they can consume via the edible arts. Is food the ultimate art form? It engages every sense that you possess and then it becomes a part of you. How powerful is that?

As a photographer, I relish the opportunity to work with culinary artists and so it was with great pleasure that I agreed to shoot my friend Teddy Danielson’s first dinner as a private chef. She had worked all day to get everything ready, and when I got there, an hour before she started serving guests food, she greeted me with a cookie. “Jake! How are you. Try this cookie.”

I looked at the powdered-sugar-dusted little nugget of goodness and got a napkin and sat down to enjoy it. I sank my teeth into the cookie and I was transported. What the heck? I wasn’t expecting what I experienced. It was crunchy on the outside, but so chewy on the inside and sweet and almond flavored all the way through. It was like a magic trick.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Good texture, huh?”

What a way to set it off. I knew that she was an expert chef, educated in technique and passionate about creating great food, but even with this expectation I was happily surprised. The cookie was evidence of her magic. Teddy was a contemporary sorceress working with her team to prepare beautiful hors d’oeuvres and rolling out some gorgeous pizza dough. These lucky guests were going to eat some absolutely perfect pizza with pears, brie cheese, and caramelized onions, as well as other flat bread masterpieces. But that was just the beginning.

As I moved around the kitchen keeping out of the way of this master orchestrating her work, I kept catching a whiff of the short ribs that had been slowly cooking all day in a bottle of wine. Next came the risotto which filled the kitchen with that unmistakable scent of rich cheese infusing rice with flavor. As she was plating the buttery short ribs atop a bed of risotto I witnessed the final course of a dinner that is as good as it can possibly get. Check her out if you are hosting a party and want the best of the best private chefs. She also delivers meals on a weekly basis for clients who want something delicious, healthy and easy to heat up.

Contact Teddy through her Instagram @takingpurejoy

Notes to a Young Artist

Nobody taught us how to say goodbye. It’s really gonna hurt. Hurtling towards that time when we have to go, running around the coffee shop like a 5-year old hopped up on espresso.

It just hit me. I’m not ready. I’m not ready for any of it, but it doesn’t matter. Not one little bit. It’s gonna happen. To me, to you, to everyone we love.

Have a kid you love. Then feel that.

It’s too fucked to be real, but real it is.

This is why Shakespeare was so great. He expressed the comical levity and the tragic certainty of life with equal energy. It’s a beautiful place full of ecstatic feelings and from time to time the most horrific experiences occur. The more wonderful it seems the harder it stings.

This is one reason why I love punk music. Bands like Black Flag help us to grit our teeth. You gotta get through the hard times. It’s gonna take a lot of hutzpah, kid.

It was the best of times and the worst of times and they just keep getting more intense. Just remember, pain is temporary. Everything passes. If you can embrace it all, make art out of everything. Judge nothing. Trust your own ability to read energy. That’s all it is. Just a bunch of signals.

Somewhere someone right now is suffering because they forgot this. A love was lost, a fortune squandered, their last chance spilled like red wine on white carpet.

Compassion is our greatest strength. To think of others is the hardest task. There’s always room for improvement. And this is how you do it. Be unbothered. Know yourself better than anything else, and especially understand that you are as finite as a wave and as infinite as water. The world is a tremendous paradox and nobody is better or worse than you.

Kindness is strength, violence is weakness, love is everything that matters.

Working Well with Others

I want to make sure that I express myself clearly. I love collaborations. They are important, and feedback is necessary to get something published with someone else. I want to do more writing with other brands, and I have become really good at working through the process of receiving notes.

I just wanted to mention how it also has reminded me that the best writing I do is when I do it alone. The thing is, the blogs I’m writing for other businesses serve more purposes than just for the sake of good writing. They are helping the search engines find them, they are providing valuable content to potential customers, and they are representing the character and mission of that business.

Obviously, I could never do that on my own. I see it as an interesting challenge: to work in collaboration with people who know a ton more about their business and field of expertise.

I also realized that I want to do more writing that is just my own, because it feels good to have that kind of creative control. It helps to keep you sharp. When it comes to art there is nothing more important. And everyone can publish their own work, make their own art. So we are responsible for our own level of enthusiasm and skill in our work.

Portraiture is another kind of collaboration. When you photograph another person, even if it is for the sole intention of making art, you are doing a dance with that person. You have to be careful to lead with confidence, to stay connected through eye contact, and to make sure not to step on their toes.

I have the pleasure to work on portraits with a lot of wonderful people, and on Tuesday, I did a photographic series with my friend Samantha. Now Sammie is a beautiful woman, inside and out. We have done a number of shoots over the years and have developed a very trusting relationship. So, I was super excited when she agreed to have me photograph her in her bedroom. I think that a person’s environment says so much about them.

We agreed to meet up in the evening after she got home from work. The light was soft and beautiful in her bedroom and we got some beautiful shots of her reading in bed. Upon walking around her home, however, I discovered some evening light beaming through the windows on the other side of the house. I asked if she would want to shoot in that light, too.

I think that a lot of what a model experiences during a shoot depends upon the energy the photographer is emitting. When you aren’t super happy about the shots you’re getting it is easy for them to tell. When you get a frame that you know is going to be great, however, your excitement is contagious. While I had wanted to photograph her in her bedroom, it turned out the living room had much more interesting light, and it was a lot easier to direct her when I was excited about the light.

Collaborations in photography are an art, and they require being open to experimentation, but also being honest about how you feel during the process of the shoot. When you are happy about the results you’re getting, it helps the whole thing to flow.

Something to Savor

I’m very excited to be writing some blogs for businesses who want to use articles to boost their search engine optimization and to tell their stories the old-fashioned way: in words. Writing has always been a huge part of my life, even though I haven’t shared much of it for the past five years. My writing has been reduced to copy for social media posts, emails, and the endless stream of texts. While I do enjoy composing short and punchy captions, I think that there is something truly valuable about longer form compositions. When we read even just a few paragraphs, we are able to take a quick journey, to fall under the spell of a voice. It’s this hypnotic trance-like feeling that I missed and I’m super happy to be taking it up again. I’ve written a few blogs here and there over the years, but nothing consistently enough to really build anything. This is another moment of focusing my intentions to make it happen.

It can be a little like an addict promising to quit their habits, but while it might be a little hard to believe, the process of trying is key to actually eventually succeeding. There are of course many distractions, many trips off of the path, some digressions for a view, some painful tumbles down the hill, but if you want to do something eventually you make it part of your life. That’s what this is: it’s the start of me making writing for the public a part of my life. Doing some writing professionally is gratifying, because it reminds me of that feeling of completing something that is going to be published. Putting your words out into the world.

The frustrating part of working on writing with other people is that you go back and forth so many times that it starts to feel like someone else’s writing. There is little sense of ownership. This doesn’t happen with photography. You send people photos and they choose the ones they like. They don’t send them back with weird little things photoshopped in. They don’t have feedback or suggestions for you. This makes photography an easier process in a lot of ways. People don’t think that they can make any changes, so they don’t ask for them.

With writing, even people who can’t put together a grammatical sentence think that they need to give you some kind of feedback. Editors, collaborators, critics all want to put their two cents in and you have to be open to the process. That’s one huge thing that you have to accept: it’s not for you, so it’s going to have lots of stuff you wouldn’t choose. It becomes your job to navigate the process of drafting and accepting revisions and trying to make the final piece as good as you possibly can. Whoever has the final authority may make changes that you entirely disagree with. They may make statements that you find to be clumsy and unsupportable. It’s not up to you, though, so you have to accept their decision.

This is also what makes me want to write my own blog much more consistently. I know that when I write without that kind of feedback I create much better prose. I want to give you something to dig your teeth into, something to savor and to enjoy for a few minutes. I don’t want to hit you over the head with sales requests or jargon. I do plan to write some blogs that will give you creative prompts, but I also just want to start a dialogue with you readers out there in the world.

Have you ever had this experience of writing in collaboration? The same thing can happen with video. Sometimes a collaborator can improve the final product, too, though. It’s good to be humble and remain open to feedback, but it’s a tricky thing. Often times another person will read what you have written in a way you can’t and that’s valuable for sure.

Andy Roy and the End of Addiction

 

 

Andy Roy is famous for being a wild and raw skateboarder and a psychedelically colorful personality always ready to start a ruckus. Where did the wild things go? They followed Andy Roy who was following Jay Adams, another legendary countercultural rebel. Roy has long epitomized the punk rock core of skateboarding, the DIY, middle finger to authority dirty grimy soul of American culture. He is a unicorn, a mythical creature–untamable, but one you want to believe in for the sake of us all. He is a performance artist, a shit starter, a robber, a swindler, a cuddle bandit and more. He is the kind of guy to make the most out of every fucked up situation that American life could throw at you. He threw it right back and it was covered in shit.

 

One more thing Andy Roy is and was, however, is an addict. He is also a boy who saw adult things too early, a father who didn’t know how to grow up. He is a boyfriend who truly loves his girlfriend. He is a man in recovery and full of all the potential of a human being.

 

I have never met Andy Roy, but I learned about him through learning about skateboarding which has become one of my favorite parts of our culture. I first became intrigued by his personality when I saw his Epicly Latered episode and felt so conflicted when I saw him stand up to Birdo at Derby when he was confronted for speaking his mind about Consolidated. I love the stand that Consolidated has taken against the corporatization of skateboarding, but here was Birdo seeming to protect his brand by confronting a skater who spoke his mind. I was confused. I know Birdo. I respect him. But in this encounter my gut went with Andy Roy. He seemed truer, purer in his approach. I still wonder about how that scene was edited. What don’t we know about how it went down? Maybe I was fooled by good video. It wouldn’t be the first time.

 

Next, I followed Andy on Instagram where I grew to love his voice. He would write these obscenely long rants but you could follow him perfectly and the picture he painted was vivid and clear. I quickly realized that the man was an artist, someone like Barney with the gift for spontaneous prose. I also saw that he loved his girlfriend and that made me like him that much more. It’s one thing to be tough, but another to be vulnerable. When you are in love with another human that vulnerability that opens up is so much more profound than anything else, and his ability to share that publicly put me on his team.

 

Now, the thing is, I might be falling for old Andy Roy tricks. He might be robbing me blind. He’s a pro at this game, but the thing is I believe him.

 

It was at the turn of the year that he got sober. The holidays are especially rough for people who live outside the box. If you are anti-establishment it is a painful time of year usually. As the story goes, his girlfriend discovered he had been using heroin and lying to her about it and she left him. He retreated from San Francisco, homeless and broke and went to stay with Bam who was still living wildly and had the means to make it happen.

 

I don’t need to repeat the story, though, because he tells it so well himself. Listen to his podcast Rip Ride and check out his episode with Brandon Novac, which goes into the details of his path to sobriety. Then listen to all the other episodes, and listen to his interview on the Nine Club. What stood out the most to me in hearing him and Novac talk about their journeys was Novac’s vision for the end of addiction. He said it goes one person at a time. One person gets help and gets clean and sober and then they help another and one becomes two and then they help another until it spreads across the country like the light of a new day. We are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. People are dying every day from overdoses. We need someone like Andy Roy to lead the way, and his podcast Rip Ride is doing just that.

Interdependence Day

Happy 4th, friends! I try to remember that it’s a process, this thing called history. Women have had the right to vote for only a hundred years. I believe that we have a long way to go. We’re a young country, a culture actively evolving, and if we’re lucky we will continue to get wiser and better with time. I dream similar dreams as those who came before. We are connected by a common situation. This is a holiday that started out as Independence Day, but one day it may become Interdependence Day. When we build more bridges than bombs we will be closer to that reality, the true situation that we are all one.